CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom (AFP) – Fourth-division outsiders Cambridge United earned themselves a money-spinning FA Cup fourth-round replay at Old Trafford after holding Premier League giants Manchester United to a 0-0 draw on Friday.
There were 76 places in the English league system between the teams at kick-off, but League Two Cambridge held their own against their illustrious visitors in front of 7,987 fans at their Abbey Stadium home.
The clearest chance of the game fell to United striker Radamel Falcao in the second half, but the on-loan Colombia superstar was denied by a fine save from Cambridge goalkeeper Chris Dunn.
“I am extremely proud of each and everyone of my players,” said Cambridge head coach Richard Money.
“We tried to make sure the game didn’t faze them in the tunnel and to look at the badge and go out work hard and see what happens. We were confident we could compete. We’ll take the replay, of course.”
Fans of the club from the university city were left to plan a trip to the Theatre of Dreams, less than a year after they returned to the Football League following nine years as a non-league outfit.
And while United’s dreams of a first FA Cup success since 2004 remain alive, the extra fixture is a game that manager Louis van Gaal could do without.
“Yes, of course it is frustrating,” said Van Gaal, whose side had won 2-0 at third-tier Yeovil Town in round three.
“We make the same error as against Yeovil Town and against QPR. We did the same playing style more or less in the first half.
“Then I have to be angry again. In the second half we did much better, but OK, we are not out of the cup. That is the most important thing.”
Van Gaal’s curious eve-of-match admission that watching United play in a 4-4-2 formation gave him a “twitchy ass” meant the visitors’ team-sheet was awaited with more anticipation than usual. They lined up with a back four and a midfield diamond, while Wayne Rooney was absent from the squad amid reports of a foot injury, but on a bitterly cold night in eastern England, it was the home side who made the early running.
Right-winger Ryan Donaldson in particular caught the eye, crossing for Tom Elliott to head over and seizing on a dangerous loose pass from Phil Jones, only for his heavy touch to allow the United defender to clear.
At the other end, Dunn saved with his legs from Daley Blind, but the best chance of the first half fell to Cambridge defender Josh Coulson, who headed just over after he had inadvertently blocked a goal-bound header from team-mate Michael Nelson.
Van Gaal had warned United about Cambridge’s aerial threat prior to the game, but the 11-time cup winners looked vulnerable at set-pieces nonetheless, while in attack they struggled to stretch the play.